Finally An App To Cure Chronic Lateness

I am always late. People close to me know that I’m 5 or 10 minutes late to everything.

For me, the problem is serious. I’ve forgotten articles of clothing, missed trains, run through airports, been issued speeding and parking tickets, and joined meetings that have already begun.

I’ve disappointed a lot of people – my wife more than most.

I have a smartphone, an online calendar, and GPS driving times, and I’m still punctually challenged. So I set out to discover where I was falling short, and how technology might be able to help.

Why Am I Late?

The ever-punctual simply don’t understand how difficult it is for someone like me to be on time. Just set my clocks back 10 minutes or just leave 10 minutes earlier, right? Sure! Except… that doesn’t work. If a clock is fast or if I set my alert earlier, I know I’ve got a few extra minutes to dawdle.

I am not intentionally late, although the punctual are tempted to think that. I don’t go out of my way to be rude. I really do want to be on time.

The solution isn’t as simple as “just leave earlier”. To solve this problem, I started analyzing my behavior leading up to an event.

Here is what I discovered:

  1. I don’t know how long it takes me to do common everyday tasks.

    An accurate length of time to shower or dress or eat breakfast is just not something I store in my brain. In a rush, I was able to shower and get ready in 5 minutes once, and now that’s permanently implanted as the time it takes to do those things.

  2. I don’t stop whatever I’m doing when I need to stop.

    I get caught up in reading, watching something, or solving an intense problem. When that popup alert or alarm dings, if I see or hear it, I always snooze for just a few more minutes… a few times.

  3. I don’t consistently reinforce the right habits for being on time.

    Even if I work hard to be on time once or twice, I can’t maintain the habit. I have no good support system. My smartphone alerts and calendar popups only go so far. It’s clear that my calendar and todo apps lack essential tools for the chronically late.

Introducing Interruptive, The App For People Like Me

I have a Google Calendar event at 4:45p every weekday. I have to pick up my son from daycare.

I know that it takes me roughly 5 minutes to get out the door, and it takes me 5 minutes to drive there.

At that time of day, I’m just wrapping up work – often focused on shipping code, or sending an email, or concluding a meeting. It’s easy for me to miss (or snooze) the calendar event reminder.

There are only two things that effectively break my focus:

  1. Physically removing me from the room. Unfortunately, there isn’t yet a good technology solution for that.

  2. Calling me on the phone.

I get so few phone calls these days that when I do get one, my heart skips a beat. Everyone I know communicates with me over email or text, and if they do call me, it’s after texting first. A phone call means it’s important.

How It Works

In the Interruptive app, I can add two tasks I need to do prior to this 4:45p event:

Set Alert

This automatically sets an alert for 4:35p.

At exactly 4:35p, Interruptive uses old school interruption technology to alert me: a phone call I must answer.

When I answer, it reminds me of the event and my punctuality mantra:

“If you don’t stop and walk out the door right now, you’ll be late.”

Interruptive won’t let me ignore this call. If I don’t answer and acknowledge the message, it’ll just call me again a minute later. Acknowledgement comes in the form of pressing a single-digit number, which is randomly chosen for every call (so no cheating).

Interruptive also works to reinforce my consistent punctuality. After the event, the app asks me - Were you on time?

Late Status

If I indicate I was late, I’m immediately given the option to increase the time for any of the tasks.

Adjust Alert

In fact, one day I was late. So I increased the drive time from 5 minutes to 10 minutes.

Update Time

Every event that includes “Drive To Daycare” adjusts its alert time by 5 minutes. In the future, if I add a new event that requires me to “Drive To Daycare”, Interruptive remembers that 10 minutes is how long I need to make it there on time.

Interruptive isn’t trying to replace your calendar app. Instead, it synchronizes events with your Google calendar, ensuring that all your phone call alerts are also adjusted whenever you modify the dates or times of your calendar events.

Is Interruptive For You?

Everyone knows someone like me. Chronic lateness is an incredibly common problem.

According to the Huffington Post, a 1997 study of over 200 people at San Francisco State University indicated that 17% percent were chronically late.

More recently, in a CareerBuilder survey released on Thursday, 23% of workers indicated they are late at least once a month, and 14% are late on a weekly basis.

The repercussions can be serious.

That survey also revealed that 41% of managers have fired employees for lateness.

I don’t know the amount of money I’ve lost due to speeding tickets, parking tickets, or needing to swap plane or train tickets for the next closest time.

Most people who are chronically late strain their personal and professional relationships every time they leave someone waiting. There is no survey about the influence of chronic lateness on divorce, but the results would be interesting.

Ultimately, you have to make the choice to improve. Interruptive is just ensuring that when you (or your loved ones) decide to change your habits, you have a tool to support your efforts.

So why phone calls?

Short of showing up at your front door, phone calls have become the most interruptive means of communication.

S.E. Smith at The Daily Dot says:

When my phone rings, it usually triggers an abject moment of panic, because no one ever calls me, and I assume it’s a crisis.

David Zax in an MIT Technology Review article about the end of voicemail said:

A phone call feels like an interruption – often because it is.

Ashley Feinberg wrote a piece for Gizmodo about killing the phone call, where she notes:

For nearly every type of non-death-or-Apocalypse-relaying message, there is something, anything better than a phone call.

And Clive Thompson in Wired said:

Voice calls are emotionally high-bandwidth, which is why it’s so weirdly exhausting to be interrupted by one.

For voice communication, I agree the phone call is less than ideal in many cases. But when you absolutely need to be alerted, the interruptive nature of a phone call couldn’t be more applicable.

How Do You Sign Up?

Interruptive is currently in the prototype stage, but we’re actively working on a beta release soon.

Sign Up For The Beta »

Finally, if you’re not sure “chronically late” describes you, don’t worry, Buzzfeed has a list for that. 18 Ways To Tell If You Suffer From Chronic Lateness. For the record, only 12 of those applied to me.